The UK’s Channel 5 yesterday broadcast a program called Britain’s Favorite Novel. Only novels by British writers were considered. The selection was based on what they described as a poll of C5’s viewers. Since I would not be included in a category answering to that description (nor would most of our readers) I cannot offer any further explanation of the poll. The result was as might be expected.
There were 30 novels on the short list. These were described in a countdown format, with most novels being given a brief description by a group of commenters that was about half novelists and half TV presenters and performers. There were 8 novels which received no comments but were simply identified and briefly described by the narrator. This was probably due to time constraints. About half the listed novels were post-1950, nine were 19th century classics and the remaining 4 or 5 from the first half of 20th century. Except for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, there were none by Evelyn Waugh or writers associated with him such as Graham Greene, Nancy Mitford, Anthony Powell, etc. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale was also on the list at #28. [Spoiler alert.] The top five selections were: 1. Pride and Prejudice; 2. The Lord of the Rings; 3. Jane Eyre; 4. Nineteen Eighty Four and 5. Wuthering Heights. Some of the commentators were authors of books on the list. These included Ian McEwen, Sebastian Faulks, Helen Fielding and Louis de Bernieres. I suppose it should come as no surprise that their comments, both on their own books and those of others, were the most incisive.
As these things go, this was an entertaining program. Channel 5 is making an effort to improve its documentary content and in this case they have succeeded. It was quite well edited and never dragged. More explanation of the selection criteria might have been useful and could explain the high percentage of recent best-sellers on the list. The program can be viewed on My5, Channel 5’s streaming service. Here’s the link. A UK internet connection is required.